Pellets in flames

Do you live off the gas network and struggle to find ways to bring down your energy bills as the cost of LPG and oil continue to escalate? Then renewable energy alternatives such as biomass and heat pumps can release you from the burden of fossil fuels and help you save money.

Biomass

Unlike traditional wood burners, biomass boilers are much more sophisticated in their design and self-feed the wood fuel pellets rather than manually needing to be loaded. Biomass boilers are a great alternative to LGP and oil as they offer much of the same flexibility and control, and users are already use to having deliveries of fuel and storing it.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are less well-known but are a great way of harnessing the earth’s energy to heat our homes either from the ground or the air. A heat pump uses a heat exchange coil containing refrigerant to absorb heat which can be used to heat homes using radiators, underfloor heating, or warm air systems, as well as heat water.
Air source heat pumps absorb heat from the air and ground source absorb the heat from the ground either in long lengths of coiled pipes in trenches or vertically dug into the ground by a borehole. These heat exchangers can work at temperatures as low as -15-20’C and they utilise a compressor to increase the temperatures being achieved.

Rewards for renewable energy

Heating your home using renewable energy may be personally rewarding knowing you are not impacting on the planet as much but it is also financially rewarding due to the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI). The RHI is an incentive scheme that gives financial support to homes installing renewable heating systems for a period of seven years. These payments are made to help increase the cost-effectiveness of installing low carbon heating systems through paying a rate per kWh for energy generated.

Wrap up your home

Regardless of whether you change your boiler to a renewable energy system you should consider making your home more energy efficient as it would reduce the energy required. However, for systems such as heat pumps, you would need to insulate your property to benefit from the lower temperatures that these systems run at and to be eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive. For help on insulating your home visit our insulation pages.

Considerations

Space and disruption are big factors to consider. Biomass boilers can be larger to house and you would need space for storing the fuel and for deliveries to access your property. Ground source heat pumps can be significantly disruptive to install with either trenches or a borehole being dug, which also requires you to have the land space to site them.
A heat pump also runs at a lower temperature to conventional heating systems and therefore it requires the household to accept that they may need to use their heating differently and that radiators may need to be over-sized in order to achieve desired temperatures.
However, they can be cheaper to run, lower your carbon emissions when you are switching from LPG or oil, and you can benefit from the RHI. If you were switching from gas or electric heating the advantages can differ as they have different operating costs.

Parchment diploma scroll on wood background

Anyone who sells their home in the UK must market it with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This gives a rating based on how energy efficient the home is and allows potential buyers to compare houses and make estimates on how much it may cost them to heat the house. Over the next 2 years, the EPC or at least E grading will also be compulsory for homes that are rented.

The EPC was originally devised as part of the Home Information Pack (HIP), a document that detailed everything to do with the home and any changes that had been made. The HIP was abandoned in 2010, but the EPC remained as it was deemed especially useful for potential buyers and renters.

How the EPC is calculated

A trained assessor is needed to work out the EPC rating for your home. They will look at the energy efficiency of items such as insulation, double glazing if the hot water tank is insulated and how well the radiators work and the boiler type and rating. The results of these observations are placed into a piece of software that offers a rating and recommendations for improvement.

The EPC will show:

● A grade from A to G, with A being the most energy efficient with good insulation and double glazing. G represents an old building with single glazing and no insulation.
● A number between 1 and 100 which is a finer grading indicating the current cost of energy bills for the property. The lower the number the more costly it is likely to be.
● Another number between 1 and 100 which shows the potential of the property if certain recommendations are carried out – such as improving insulation or adding double or triple glazing.
● An estimation of running costs of the home and potential savings for lighting, heating and hot water.
● A summary of all of the measured aspects of the home – each with a star rating out of 5. These aspects include walls (cavity and internal), roof, floors, windows, heating and controls, secondary heating sources such as fireplaces, hot water and lighting.

Your EPC can only be carried out by a trained and accredited assessor and is not something you can do yourself. However, it is often offered as part of the real estate agent service and costs around £100 – £200.

Property ladder

All of us want to save energy and reduce our electricity and gas bills, but much of the advice and schemes that are available to help people do this are aimed at homeowners. These include free insulation schemes, boiler replacement offers, window improvement schemes and general advice surrounding improving the home to avoid draughts and leaks. Many tenants feel that they simply have to put up with whatever the landlord has provided and make savings where they can.

However changes are about to come into effect (from April 2018 for new builds and lets and for existing from 2020), that will make it a legal obligation for landlords to offer a minimum standard of energy performance for their properties. This will insist that a property must meet an Energy Performance Certificate level of E – giving tenants a standard that at least gives them something to rely on.

In the meantime, it is worth noting that from April 2016 it became illegal for a landlord to refuse to allow tenants to carry out energy savings improvements on their properties – as long as the tenant is willing to pay. A number of conditions have to be met, but if you are willing to get the work properly done, the landlord should agree.

The landlord can also take advantage of a number of relief schemes to allow them to have the property insulated and improved. This is set against their tax obligations and can improve their property enough to allow them to charge more rent. This may not seem like a win for you as a tenant, but is still an incentive for the landlord to have work carried out. The key here is to talk to your landlord and see what they are willing to do.

If all else fails, there are a number of things you can do that is cheap and will not materially change the structure of the home – ensuring you don’t cause damage that might end up costing you more.

● Use heavy drapes or curtains in the winter that fall all the way to the floor. These will keep out draughts from the windows.
● Invest in some rugs if you have wooden floors. Much of the heat lost in your home is due to leaky floors.
● Use all available systems to avoid using too much hot water or heating. This means thermostats and timers. If yours don’t work well, ask for them to be replaced.
● Ask your landlord if you can have a smart meter installed – this will help you to see the amount you are using
● Try adding reflective backing to your radiators to reflect heat into the room.
● Add removable secondary glazing to your windows. This is easily found in DIY stores and involves simple adhesive films that stick to the existing window frames.

Electric car in charging

With the huge emphasis that the government has placed on the emergence of electric cars over the last few years and the way that the technology has improved, many of us are considering if buying one would be a good idea. Part of that decision-making process is going to be the cost of the extra electricity needed to charge the cars – possibly on a daily basis.

Energy companies have started to appreciate this and are beginning to offer special tariffs to make the economic cost seem much more attractive. In fact, one company, Ovo, has developed a tariff that makes it possible to take full advantage of cheap electricity for the purposes of charging an electric car. The company will offer owners of the Leaf Nissan a special charging system that allows a degree of control from the supplier over how the charging takes place. Simply put, the supplier decides how your car will be charged to maximise energy use.

Vehicle-to-grid technology

Ovo is also looking into the possibility of vehicle to grid electricity technologies. So the supplier will charge the car when electricity is cheap, store it in the car battery and then sell back to the grid when the price is higher. It is thought that this could result in a saving of up to £400 per year for drivers – effectively allowing them to drive for free. They just have to allow Ovo to manage their electricity needs on their behalf.

The government has provided £20m in funding to look into the idea of vehicle to grid technology to see how viable it will be – however the flexibility that it offers the National Grid to draw on the electricity stored in hundreds of thousands of electric cars could be game changing, according to experts.

This is added to other tariffs on offer from the likes of Eon and other larger companies that provide cheaper overnight electricity especially for the use of those charging their cars. In some cases, this overnight supply is up to a third cheaper than daytime prices. Some suppliers also offer discounts for owners of these vehicles.

As ownership of electric vehicles increases, these types of schemes could become more important and a factor in our decisions making the process as consumers. Energy companies are starting to see the benefit in offering something special for the forthcoming electric car revolution and we all stand to benefit.

Solar panel and battery

The problem of how to store the energy supplied by your solar panels has long been an issue when it comes to the popularity of the technology. In the past, any excess energy made during the day (when the sun was shining) would be simply sold back to the grid and in the evening the household would need to use energy from the grid in the usual way. For those wishing to be fully self-supporting, this wasn’t ideal. Additionally, what about those days when the sun isn’t shining?

The technology has become a hot topic and could signal a new and important step forward for the beleaguered solar panel industry. The government has recognised the importance of this new technology and has promised a funding grant of £246m for research and electric car developer Elon Musk has also put his efforts into the development of probably the best storage battery on the market so far.

How does battery storage work?

Household storage batteries designed to work with solar panels have recently become accessible for the domestic market and some are promising to offer enough storage to last at least a full day. The system works by drawing off unused energy and storing it in a battery rather than sending it to the grid. The household can then use that stored energy when the solar panels are no longer offering the energy requirements. This reduces the pull on the National Grid – allowing them to more effectively use available energy.

There are a number of companies offering battery storage at the moment with Tesla being the most well known, however, companies such as Samsung, PowerVault and even Mercedes are getting in on the act. The batteries currently on offer range between a 14kWh model that could last an entire day and ones that offer just a backup option.

Is it cost effective?

The main question will be whether battery storage is actually worthwhile. This is a new technology and therefore is still an expensive option. The largest battery storage systems can cost as much as £10,000, while the cheapest come in at around £1000. This may seem like a worthwhile investment for anyone who is forced or wants to live off-grid. However, for the rest of us, this cost may still be prohibitive as the pay-back time is likely to be long.

At this time the feed-in-tariff is not affected if you choose to store your energy rather than sell it back to the grid. The tariff is still paying solar panel owners as if they are exporting some of their energy. This situation is likely to change as the technology becomes cheaper and more popular. In the meantime though, there is no loss in terms of income made from solar power and there could even be a gain as you don’t need to buy additional energy.

Battery storage is a watch this space technology, but with some of the biggest players getting involved it could soon be the answer to our energy capacity issues.